One team is all about keeping attempts low. The other team is all about letting everything happen. They will collide tonight in an effort to get closer to the not-so-mythical land of "NHL .500."
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Toy Drive: It's tonight. If you're going to the game, bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots.
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night amid snowy weather, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a sluggish and scoreless - two posts aside - first period, the Lightning found their legs, discovered that passes work better when they're tape-to-tape, and realized they could get in New Jersey's end and pick up after their poor zone clearances in the second period. The Bolts out-shot the Devils 14-5 in the second alone. Fortunately, Martin Brodeur put in an "A" performance stopping everything from routine shots from distance to out-right robbing Martin St. Louis in the slot. Brodeur was only beaten once, but Alex Killorn's shot rang off the right post. Even more fortunately, the Devils managed to score in that period, much less get a few shots on net. Eric Gelinas saw Damien Brunner open in the middle of the neutral zone with the Lightning defense spread out. Gelinas hit him with a pass, Brunner was clean on through to goal, and he beat Anders Lindback to make it 1-0. In the third period, the Devils had a stronger start and essentially dominated the Lightning for a six-minute stretch. In that time period, the trio of Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Dainius Zubrus crushed their opposition. Zubrus scored twice at close range to make it 3-0 as a result. The Lightning had the better run of play out of necessity, but they couldn't thwart Brodeur - not even when they pulled Lindback for over four minutes. The Devils won 3-0 and the result was more important than how they got it.
The Last Senators Game: Monday night featured the Senators hosting the St. Louis Blues. It began with Zach Smith taking two unnecessary penalties, so Robin Lehner was tested early and often. But the Sens came out unscathed on the scoreboard and managed to go up early after Smith's first penalty. Jean-Gabriel Pageau came in late to the slot, Bobby Ryan fed him the puck from behind the net, and the one-timer made it 1-0. Lehner carried on defending that lead until Chris Stewart beat him late in the second period with a backhander to tie up the game. In the final minute of the second period, Stewart scored his second of the game off a touch pass from Derek Roy. Ottawa would answer that late strike fairly early into the third. Kyle Turris hit Ryan with a fantastic diagonal pass from the point to the slot and Ryan beat Brian Elliott with his backhand to make it 2-2. St. Louis doubled-up the Senators in shots, 12-6, in the third but Lehner was too good. Overtime was necessary and the home team found a way to win it. Rookie Cody Ceci stopped a chip-attempt at a clearance, faked the shot, and then stepped up a few feet to his right. His shot sailed through traffic and earned his team another point in the standings. The Senators won 3-2; here's RogerTheShrubber's recap at Silver Seven.
The Last Devils-Senators Game: Way back on October 17, times were tough for the Devils fan. The Devils not only went into Ottawa with no wins in their five-game road trip through Canada, but they had no wins at all. None. The team needed any kind of result, but they wouldn't get it from Ottawa. Martin Brodeur was beaten on Ottawa's first two shots in the game. The first came from an easily-seen shot by Erik Karlsson, which went off Brodeur and in. The second was a turnaround shot from Bobby Ryan. They weren't good goals to give up and it really hurt as Craig Anderson seemingly stopped everything the Devils threw at him for most of the game. Zach Smith scored on Brodeur's flank - not a soft goal - to make it 3-0 and it was grim. But the Devils created some hope. Travis Zajac scored on a 5-on-3 early in the third period to get them on the board. Stephen Gionta set-up Steve Bernier for a lovely shot to make it 3-2. The Devils skaters were carrying the play, they were pushing for a third, and then Brodeur gave up another awful goal with under five minutes to play. That one was to Milan Michalek and there was nothing crazy about the shot. It was a simple slapshot that froze Brodeur for reasons unknown. That killed any hopes of a comeback and a Jason Spezza empty netter just nailed the coffin on what would be the Devils' seventh winless game in a row. My recap focused heavily on the goalie - as it should since he was a big reason why it was a loss. Over at Silver Seven, Dave Young pointed out that the Senators played with fire in their winning performance.
The Goal: Make them feel the fire; go out and get it in deep as much as possible. The Senators are high in two very dubious stats. I believe if the Devils can manage to get in Ottawa's collective grills and make them battle for a lot of pucks in their own end, then they can best exploit both of them. What they are deserve their own little sections.
Higher than Philly: The Ottawa Senators have been shorthanded more times than any other team this season. In 35 games, they have been shorthanded 134 times, or 3.82 times per game. Not coincidentally, they are tied with two other teams for the most power play goals allowed in the NHL, 30, before Monday's games. The Senators are actually around the league median when it comes to shots allowed in shorthanded situations according to Extra Skater. But the goaltending has been brutal at times for them. Craig Anderson either was very bad or very unfortunate because he's got a 76.6% save percentage on the PK to go with his perfectly-good 92% save percentage at evens.
Robin Lehner getting more starts surely has helped, given his much better (and luckier) 92.5% save percentage on the PK. He'll start tonight according to Wayne Scanlan (Aside: Scanlan's tweet suggests no other changes from the St. Louis game, so the Rock may not see Marc Methot tonight.) the Devils won't get a chance to enjoy a goalie who's been suddenly pitiful wen down a man. Even so, one would think that discipline should also be a part of this solution. It hasn't been given that, again, they lead the league in shorthanded situations. Ottawa may stop plenty of bleeding on the kill with a different goalie, but the best kill remains not having to do it all. The New Jersey Devils' power play certainly isn't good. Still, I'd like to see them try to exploit Ottawa's tendencies of sending skaters to the box. Usually, maintaining the puck down low will draw a call or two if successful and the Devils do tend to play that way anyhow. Especially by the Zajac line. Even if they don't convert - and, let's face it, they likely won't - they can at least stem Ottawa's attack for a fraction of the game and that's helpful in of itself.
A Load Generated, A Load Conceded: The Senators are all about high-event hockey this season. They generate a lot of shots and shooting attempts for themselves. They average over 33 shots per game and they are second in the league in shooting attempts per 60 minutes at even strength. Unless the Devils slow them down, this could easily become a game of "Who gets more chances" and that's definitely not playing to their strengths. Sure, the Devils have had some high-shooting games of their own in recent weeks, but that hasn't been the norm. If the Devils want to slow them down, then making them spend plenty of energy to get the puck and then get it forward from their own end over and over can certainly help.
But the hope of playing that was isn't so much to slow them down, but it is to exploit their lack of stinginess. Just as the Senators take a lot of attempts and shots, they give up a lot of them as well. They average just over 34 shots allowed per game and they are in the league's top (bottom?) ten in terms of most shooting attempts allowed per 60 minutes at even strength. The Senators do come out ahead in terms of possession, but both Anderson and Lehner have faced a lot of shots. While they have superior even strength save percentages than both of New Jersey's goalies, they've given up many more goals due to the volume they have had to deal with. The Devils should take advantage of that immediately. By getting the puck in deep and playing with aggression, I think they should be able to find gaps in Ottawa's defense to create many shooting opportunities against Lehner. That will not only help keep the Sens' offense at bay, but also help the Devils' own chances at beating a very good goalie in net.
All World: Of course, the Senators have plenty of dangerous players. None are more fearsome to me than Erik Karlsson. The Devils may have the last change, but expect to see a lot of #65 in a lot of different situations. Paul MacLean has played him at an average over 27 minutes per game. That's right, on average, Karlsson plays close to half of a full game in regulation. And he does a lot with all of that ice time. Forget how he compares on his own team, you need to recognize how he stacks up against all other defensemen. His average ice time of 27:42 is the second highest among all defensemen (and skaters) in the NHL. He's got 109 shots on net, which is the second most among all defensemen in the NHL prior to Tuesday's games. He's got nine goals and 31 points, the most among all defensemen in the NHL prior to Tuesday's games. Beyond the basic stats, he absolutely drives the play forward when he's on the ice in 5-on-5 situations. As Silver Seven user critias pointed out in this FanPost, every important Senator forward plays well with Karlsson. Every one. He is an all-world defenseman and all I can say is "good luck" to those who see him on the ice. That and make sure he's covered at the point. I'd rather dare his partner (e.g. Jared Cowen, Joe Corvo) to try and make something happen than let Karlsson do as he wish.
Turris Line, Spezza Line, And Else: Like most teams, Ottawa's top six consists of their most dangerous forwards. And like some teams, the production gets thin after them, But MacLean can and has leaned on his top men. It makes some sense. Bobby Ryan has been fantastic this season. He's got 16 goals and 16 assists, which not only makes him the team's leading scorer but also one of the league's top-twenty scorers. Ryan's stick has been hotter than any other Senator (team-leading shooting percentage of 16.7%) and that's a problem since he shoots quite a bit (2.77 shots per game). Against St. Louis, he was on a line with Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad. Turris has been very good. His seven goals and twenty assists may make you think he's all about making plays, but his 101 shots prove he's definitely trying to score more himself. Zibanejad missed a portion of this season but his eight goals and six assists in 27 games aren't shabby at all. The trio have been great in 5-on-5 play. If MacLean keeps them together, then that's a unit Peter DeBoer needs to find a good match-up to go against. I'd prefer Andy Greene and either one of the Devils' top two lines, but whatever works.
The Senators' second unit shouldn't be ignored from a production standpoint. Against the Blues, the Senators kept Clarke MacArthur with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. MacArthur has been very good this season with eleven goals and fourteen assists. Spezza has been his usual, important, and very skilled self with ten goals and eighteen assists. (And like Turris, he's been bombing away as he has 107 shots already.) Michalek hasn't been as productive with only five goals and ten assists, but his hard shot remains something to respect. As a group, they can do some damage. However, it's worth noting that Spezza and Michalek really haven't been so good in possession. I wonder whether MacArthur was placed with them to help them out. Perhaps it has in recent games. All the same, this is the other unit you really should know.
Beyond them, well, there's not a lot to be really impressed with. Ottawa got some great contributions out of some of these guys last season. But none of them really jump off the page with their numbers so far. After Zibanejad, no other Senator forward has more than Zach Smith's nine points. While that may be respectable for some of their roles, it's nothing that makes me go "Wow, this is a guy I have to be worried about." Well, except for maybe Smith and Chris Neil given their tendency to do stupid things that get them penalties.
Redemption Game: Simply, Martin Brodeur sucked in the last Devils-Senators game. He was a big reason why they lost the game. Moreover, he simply hasn't been all that good in recent years. In the long run, Cory Schneider should be the better goalie. More importantly, the Devils need points by any means, so it's imperative that the "right guy" gets to start. And I don't know if that's Brodeur. That said, I can't say Brodeur doesn't deserve this start. He was impressive in his last start against Tampa Bay. He earned a shutout. And it wasn't an easy one with over 30 shots against. If you're not going to go with the guy who got a 100% in his previous start, then there has to be a very good reason like an injury or something else. Brodeur isn't hurt. Schneider's 91.2% even strength save percentage proves his recent form hasn't been significantly better than Brodeur, who's now up to 90.9% after the shutout.
So it's no surprise and I accept the news from Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice from Tuesday that Brodeur will start this game. I hope he has a redemption game against a squad that made him look stupid, hurt the team, and turned many of the fans' opinions about his usage around way back in October. Moreover, I hope I'm not writing a recap where I have to write something like "Schneider should've started."
A Returning Player: In Tuesday's practice, Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Stephen Gionta centered the fourth line. Gionta sat out for several weeks until his ankle healed up. Now that he's practiced on a line, he could return to the lineup tonight. I look forward to see what he can do in spot duty. I'm curious as to who will play alongside him. Cam Janssen did get hurt in practice but DeBoer thinks he could be OK per this Gulitti article so we'll see. As much as I don't like what little Janssen brings to the table, he's currently got favor. If he can't go, then it may open up a spot for a last hurrah for Tim Sestito's call-up or even possibly Mattias Tedenby, who sparkled in his conditioning stint with Albany. Putting Steve Bernier at his wing is a curious move since I really liked some of Bernier's performances when he was with Patrik Elias' line. But that move allows Adam Henrique to be pushed up as well as get Andrei Loktionov back on the roster. We'll see how it all shakes out. For Gionta, my expectations are low - just go out there and don't get hurt and/or killed. For the rest, get out there and attack because, again, the Senators have allowed a lot of other teams to attack at-will this season.
Your Take: It's the Devils' low-event, stingy style of hockey up against Ottawa's free-flowing-in-both-directions tendencies. Which of these do you think will prevail tonight? Can the Devils exploit Ottawa's weaknesses? Will Brodeur have a far better game against Ottawa than the last one? How do you think the Devils should approach Ottawa's top two lines? How about containing Karlsson, since he may not be stoppable-by-force? Are you excited to see Gionta coming back? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading and remember to bring a toy if you're going to tonight's game.